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EXCLUSIVE: Hawaiian Gardens Hires Company Fired by El Monte for Questionable Business Practices

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Yet another questionable hire by the new council led by Mayor Myra Maravilla. 

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BY BRIAN HEWS

Omar Hernandez, who now goes by the name Omar E. Hernandez, has quite the history working with cities.

Hernandez is the CEO of Global Urban Strategies, Inc., (GUS) but back in 2012 he was the Principal of Arroyo Strategies Group, a company that was helping El Monte secure funds for infrastructure projects through grant writing.

According to articles by the San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Los Angeles Times, Arroyo worked with the city of El Monte for two years starting in 2013 and earned an eye-opening $841,000.

A wide-ranging audit, as reported by the newspapers,  later found that Arroyo’s contract was no-bid and awarded under the radar by then City Manager Tony Ibarra.

El Monte Councilman Joe Gonzales questioned whether Arroyo and Hernandez was getting special treatment because of his relationship with other Council members. 

Hernandez served as a consultant on the election campaign of then-Councilwoman Angelica Garcia; the Mayor’s daughter worked for Arroyo Strategies. 

By the time the dust settled two years later, Ybarra had resigned, Aquinaga plead guilty to felony bribery charges, and major questions remained about Hernandez, who abandoned Arroyo Strategies and incorporated Global Urban Strategies.

Despite the lingering questions and actions of Hernandez, the city of Hawaiian Gardens, led by Mayor Myra Maravilla and Mayor pro tem Jesse Alvarado, recently awarded a similar under-the-radar grant writing contract to his company.

With the revelations, the Assembly is certain to be upset, as Maravilla is a Delegate of Speaker Anthony Rendon.

The engagement was completed covertly during a study session that Councilman Hank Trimble missed leading him to ask Hernandez, who was giving a presentation at the July 23 regular City Council meeting, “who are you, I don’t know who you are, are you an employee?” I never heard about any meetings.”

Mayor Maravilla snapped back, “it’s not our fault that people did not know about the meetings.”

Hernandez said that he conducted outreach meetings, a requirement when submitting grants, again leading Trimble to ask, “when did those happen, I did not hear about them, I would have attended.Iif I did not hear about it, probably many of our residents did not either.”

It is quite a shocking hire by the City, and calls into question the motives of Maravilla, her council, (minus Hank Trimble) and City Manager Ernie Hernandez.

Payback to Supporters

Sources are telling HMG-LCCN that Mayor Maravilla pushed for the agreement in a payback scheme to her supporters, with City Manager Ernie Hernandez labelling the contract as “Professional Services,” to avoid a competitive bidding process.

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Hawaiian Gardens Mayor Myra Maravila.

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The sources say that the centerpiece of the grant is a competitive swimming pool that a local swim team called The Sharks will use. Many on the team are avid supporters and voters for Mayor Maravilla, with some reportedly walking campaign flyers in the past.

It is not the first time Hernandez has been involved in controversial contracts.

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune first wrote about Hernandez and his extremely questionable business practices as revealed in a 2013-2015 El Monte city audit.

The auditors raised “particular concerns” about Hernandez which included over-billing, insufficient back-up of invoice items, and submitting identical invoices for two different time periods. 

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Auditor’s report noted Arroyo “failed to allow inspection of his records.” 

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According to the audit, Hernandez was paid $380,000 in 2014 and $461,000 in 2015.

For some weeks, Hernandez billed the City for over 65 hours of work for a 40 hour week at $110 per hour, the highest rate allowed in the contract.

Hernandez also demanded that the City “rush” checks which raised “questions and concerns” with auditors and demanded 75% up front before any work was done.

And Hernandez always wanted to receive payments weekly, highly unusual for a consultant.

By August 2016, the City purged everyone involved with the scandal including the Mayor, the City Manager, and Hernandez.

The Los Angeles Times wrote that, among other issues, the auditors said that Arroyo did not have a physical office and that it did not keep any records, such as time sheets or other records, to justify the work it was doing. 

In one case, auditors said that City Manager Ybarra had used a city credit card to pay for airline tickets and hotel expenses for Arroyo employees. 

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Arroyo requested reimbursement without backup, which was prohibited under the contract.

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Arroyo later submitted a reimbursement for the expenses.

And similar to the agreement with Hawaiian Gardens, the auditors also said they found that contracts were frequently “altered” and were never put up for competitive bidding. 

And cursory research by HMG-LCCN into GUS reveals further questions.

GUS’ website states, “Global Urban Strategies, Inc. (GUS) is a full service results oriented consulting firm based out of Los Angeles, Ca.

Yet online documents show a corporate address for GUS located on South Date Ave. in Alhambra incorporated in 2016.

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Records from the Secretary of State’s website. HMG-LCCN removed the numbered address.

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Yet the GUS website states, “we have been in business for over 20 years and are the premier provider of business  solutions.”

Online property records show that the South Date address is a single family dwelling that was bought in 2014, during his work with El Monte.

The July 2016 incorporation came just weeks before the El Monte Mayor plead guilty to felony bribery along with the city manager resigning; and weeks before Arroyo’s contract was terminated.

At the July 23 meeting, Councilman Hank Trimble, the only council person to question Hernandez stated, “what I heard, and the City should know, and I am going to ask you point blank because I don’t know you, but I was told there are several articles about you embezzling about $250,000 from another City, are those articles accusing you?

Hernandez laughed and responded, “you are completely 100% wrong.”

Several emails into City Manager Ernie Hernandez, Mayor pro tem Jesse Alvarado and the remaining council members went unreturned. 

Several emails and texts into Mayor Myra Maravilla resulted in answers unrelated to the story, with her last text telling HMG-LCCN, “feel free to contact each council member individually.”

HMG-LCCN has obtained the professional services contract between GUS and the City, which contained a “corporate” address of 530 South Lake Ave., Suite 478, in Pasadena, Ca., and a phone number.

The GUS website does not have a contact phone number, only an email contact form. Emails using that form in to GUS and Hernandez went unreturned until HMG-LCCN texted the phone number from the contract, which produced a statement from Hernandez.

Hernandez’ statement was full of inconsistencies.

He attempted to distance himself from Arroyo and the audit findings, saying GUS has no connections to Arroyo, when the two daily newspaper articles clearly indicated he was the owner of Arroyo.

Hernandez stated, “Arroyo Strategy Group, which was once headed by our President [of GUS], has been closed since 2016.”

California Corporate ownership records show that Hernandez is the current President of GUS.

Hernandez went on, “the final State auditor’s report done for the City that you mentioned found no criminal wrong doing by that (Arroyo) company. Arroyo Strategy Group was not responsible for the City’s internal controls or contracting practices.” 

And similar to not maintaining an office for Arroyo,  the 530 South Lake Ave., Suite 478 address for GUS is a Mail Box Planet franchise location. Calls into Mail Box Planet confirmed that “Suite 478” is a PO Box.

530 South Lake Ave., Suite 478 is a Mail Box Planet franchise location.

Former Mayor Rey Rodriguez was incensed, “what we have here is the city of Bell. This council doesn’t care what people think, they think they are too smart, and that we are a bunch of dummies, and that they can pull anything off. It’s a good thing we have Los Cerritos Community News to bring attention to these people, now its time for a recall.

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Hank the White Guy

Is this just a Latino thing? Is there some confusion that we live in the USA and not Mexico? How do these “chicano’s” think they can keep getting away with these scams? Don’t this guys ever learn from the past?? Tom and Ron Calderon, Tony Mendoza, Bob Apodaca, Ivan Altamira, David Armenta, Leticia Vasquez, Mario Beltran, Jose Huizar, Gustavo Camacho, etc. etc.